We have already introduced you to several systems to improve your memory. You learned about the seven mental elements and how they will influence your ability to recall information. We talked about the Method of Loci and how easy it is to memorize a list of items. You also learned about the poweful code of the Major System. Now it is time for a very powerful method which will guide you on your path to become a Memory Master: The Wardrobe Method.
Definition of a mnemonic wardrobe
A wardrobe is a prepared sequence of memory pegs:
These pegs can all be accessed both in order and directly.
The list A-B-C would be associated with a wardrobe like this:
(1)-A, (2)-B, (3)-C…
History of the Wardrobe Method
This particular mnemonic system goes back to the ancient Greeks. Simonides, one of the very first mnemonic technicians, already used a simplified version of it. The actual founder of the improved method might be a Greek called Theodektis of Phaselis who influenced Aristotle. The famous philosopher wrote in his scriptures about using the alphabet as a wardrobe.
In modern times it was the german historian Ulrich Voigt who wrote in his mnemonic reference book “Esels Welt” (Donkey’s World) about this fascinating approach to memory techniques.
Eight things to consider first
To use this method you have to prepare one or more different wardrobes. The actual length of each wardrobe is not important to make it work. But there are a few things to consider before creating your first one:
- Think big. If your wardrobe is too short it won’t be powerful enough for longer lists. A number of ten sounds great for starters but will soon reach its limits.
- Think small, too. If your wardrobe is too big it will become a huge effort to find enough pegs on one hand. On the other hand it will also become an even bigger effort to memorize it before you can start using it. A number of 1.000 has a huge potential in the long run. But making it worth creating would assume an excessive use of it. Only very few fit in that category, like ambitious memory athletes for example.
- Find your perfect size. Using a certain amount of pegs will help you stabilize your wardrobe. This could be a round number like 25, 50 or 100. It could also be a number fitting into a certain system which will help you to memorize the wardrobe. The alphabet is excellent for providing you with dozens of different wardrobes from A-Z.
- Use memory systems. If you don’t do this you will have huge problems memorizing your wardrobes. There are many possible systems you could use. I will describe some of them further below.
- Use familiar pegs. Every time you struggle imagining some of your pegs you should ask yourself to replace it with something better. There are literally millions of possible pegs for you out there. Only use the ones you really like.
- Bend the rules. Overreliance on your systems is not necessary. Bend the rules as much as you like. The only thing that counts in the end is that you can recall your wardrobe with ease and that you don’t have any problems with your pegs.
- Use a numerical order. One of the most important things of a proper wardrobe is that you can always jump to every single peg in its system. You don’t have to follow the whole order as you have to do using the String Method.
- Make sure why and how you would use this method. Memorizing something to be better in memorizing something else sounds extremely weird for most people. If you are certain that this will improve your memory for ever and what things you will memorize with it you will motivate yourself to do it.
Use simple codes like the Animal Alphabet
As you can see below the alphabet is an excellent supply for a 26-wardrobe. You just have to change the category and you can start again from the letter A. There are many thinkable wardrobes like musicians, actors, authors, politicians, cartoon characters and many more. Since the alphabet is a natural order of 26 numbers you could even create the first quarter of your new number system out of this wardrobe. Three more of those lists and you have a full 100-list of number pegs.
Example of an Animal Alphabet
- A = Alligator
- B =Butterfly
- C = Crab
- D = Dolphin
- E = Elephant
- F = Frog
- G = Giraffe
- H = Horse
- I = Iguana
- J = Jellyfish
- K = Kangaroo
- L = Lizard
- M = Mouse
- N = Nautilus
- O = Owl
- P = Panda
- Q = Quail
- R = Rhinoceros
- S = Snail
- T = Tiger
- U = Unicorn
- V = Vulture
- W = Walrus
- X = X-Mas Reindeer
- Y = Yak
- Z = Zebra
Create a 2-digit system – over and over again
Using a number system for each combination of two decimal digits (00-99) will provide you with a proper 100-wardrobe. Personally I think that this might be the best wardrobe you can get. The number 100 is a compromise between the easy but inflexible 10-wardrobe and the powerful but difficult 1.000-wardrobe.
You could create such a wardrobe with any method you like. This might be the Dominic System, the Major System or the Ben System. It could be a complex Number Shape or Number Rhyme System. Or you could come up with something new like using ten different categories with ten pegs each, ordered by the phonetic code of the Major System.
I started with the Major System and use it now as my main wardrobe. From that I created two more lists to generate a Person-Action-Object System (PAO). That is the base for all my new wardrobes. I don’t even use any codification any more but merely connect each new list of 100 with two of my old lists.
How to memorize a Wardrobe without any codification
Use an ordered journey
You can use the Method of Loci for your new wardrobe. Basically it is a wardrobe made out of several well known locations in a row. But instead of simply memorizing the journey in a sequence like you would normally do with your journeys you order it and memorize the positions of each location as a number. Since this process takes time you could start with memorizing each ten locations as hooks. Over time you will know the exact positions if you focus on learning them. Or you associate it with your already existing Number System and you will know all positions from the beginning.
Create a Wardrobe out of Countries
As a practical example you should have a look at my Country System. I created a list of 100 objects with sights from America to Europe and the Middle East, representing each country in between. Another list for the other 100 countries will be a second Wardrobe.
Every list you memorize is a new Wardrobe
If you have already created a wardrobe and use it for the first time to memorize a certain list of information you will create another wardrobe by doing that. If you memorize the presidents of the United States of America in order of their presidency for example you will know them with their presidential numbers. Since they represent now a number on their own you can use them as a stand-alone wardrobe. From George Washington to Barack Obama would be your new 44-wardrobe.
Since this provides you with an odd number (not in a mathematical point of view but from the perspective of a memory master) you can add more information to make it 50 or even 100. If you want to stay flexible for upcoming presidents they can merley serve as placeholders until the next election.
Basically you do on purpose what your brain does subconsciously with all memories: You associate information after information with each other. The big difference is, that you can always recall your memory because you know where to look in your huge library called brain.
How to use your wardrobe
Associate your (1) with your (A). Use your creativity to let the Alligator (1) interact with George Washington (A), the Butterfly (2) with John Adams (B) and the Crab (3) with Thomas Jefferson (C). (Don’t get confused by the fact that the Alligator is (1) and NOT (A). This simply means that the Alligator is the number one in your actual wardrobe. The (A) represents the first element of your list, in that case George Washington.
If you are struggling with associating the names to the animals you should think outside of the box: Use something that reminds you of the name instead of the name itself. That could be an item, another person, a song etc.
- The Alligator is wearing the white wig of Washington.
- The Butterfly is living in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Its name is John.
- The Crab is having an excellent idea. A glowing bulb is popping up above its head but it is not glowing. Thomas Edison is repairing it with huge effort using a tool formed like a “J”.
Especially my association number three seems to be very far streched. But it still might bring you back to the necessary elements to reconstruct the name Thomas Jefferson.
Warning: I wouldn’t use the Alphabet for a task like that because it only provides you with 26 letters. This was merely a simple example. I suggest using the Major System or something similar with 100 memory pegs. On the other hand you can add four Alphabet lists together, get rid of the most annoying letter, for example “X” and you have 100. Do as you please.
Let it grow
When you are memorizing many wardrobes with the same basic system confusion is inevitable. To avoid using your Alligator for several occasions without being confused which story is the right one you have to use a keyword (*) as a third element for each of your associations. That will result in the following construction:
(*)-(1)-(A), (*)-(2)-(B), etc.
This is related to the Self Enhanced Memory Matrix (SEM³). Personally I don’t like this approach at all because there is too much unrelated chunking in my opinion. I rather let my wardrobes grow together forming larger systems like I wrote above with the Jean Claude van Damme example. You should try it out and find the right approach for your personal taste.
The Wardrobe Method is probably the best mnemonic system I know. It needs a prepared wardrobe before you can jump into action and memorize anything else. But then you will be able to memorize many different kinds of information. You can use it as number systems and as locations to store temporarily lists. You could even store it permanently by just using each wardrobe once and go on with your new created wardrobe from the last memorized list. But this is nothing I suggest. Combining a keyword with a proper wardrobe or alternativly overlapping your PAO like I did above are in my opinion the two most powerful approaches for longer lists. They are so powerful that you could use only one single 100-wardrobe hundreds of times over and over again.